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Jane Doe by R. J. Kaiser
(Mira, $5.99, NV) ISBN 1-55166-510-7
I confess! It is a real tribute to this author that not only did the ending surprise, but it did so by naturally evolving. And still I didn't see it coming. The characters are composites of many people whom you know, but are created with such a light touch that their problems are manageable and not tediously tiring.

Abby Hooper is the new chief of police of Riverton, California. By one small vote, the City Council hired her in preference to the older (45ish), more experienced Frank Keegan. Frank has a marginally profitable pear orchard, and is a close friend of the retiring police chief. Translate this to mean that he is firmly ensconced in the "good ole boys club." Abby was abandoned as a very young child by her mother, and was reared by her embittered father. She brings limited but big city expertise to the job.

The town is stunned by the discovery of a dead nude female found near Frank's property. The unidentified Jane Doe is somewhere between 12 and 14 years old. On that morning, Frank is trying to recover from a gigantic hangover and the uneasy feeling that there had been a female in his bed sometime during the night. Ugly scratches on his face add to his puzzlement, but he just knows there is no way he could have been the pedophile this killing indicates.

So Abby reluctantly investigates Frank. Not to mention how politically vindictive this could make her look, but Abby also has started to like Frank. As for Frank, he is well loved by the many town ladies and has had a special dalliance with Kay Irwin, older by some ten years and the owner of the town's leading drinking establishment. This wouldn't be so much of a problem except Kay is Abby's mother. All attempts at reconciliation on Kay's part have failed.

The mystery takes its first twist when the retired police chief is found dead, an apparent suicide. Sprawled in front of his VCR, the tape reveals a blackmail note and a graphic video of sex with the deceased young girl. The search for Jane Doe's killer expands and takes us to unexpected places, populated with interesting people.

The attraction grows between Frank and Abby, but he is haunted by the little fact that he has not revealed his love affair with her mother. This is not your usual run of the mill anguish and Frank must also compete with Darren, the handsome former lover who reenters Abby's life.

Jane Doe is an absorbing read. The author brings an objective view of many of society's ills and treats them dispassionately but fairly. The story twists in innovative ways that keep you turning the pages, not so much to discover 'Who Dun It" but just for the sheer pleasure of the reading.

--Thea Davis

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